Restoration of Civil Rights to Felons
Position of the Tidewater Libertarian Party
In general, the Tidewater Libertarian Party strongly supports the restoration of Civil Rights, including the right to vote, serve on juries and to keep and bear arms, to those convicted of felonies when they have completed their incarceration and probation, have made restitution to their victims when feasible, and demonstrated rehabilitation.
However, this must be accomplished consistent with the Virginia Constitution and the Rule of Law.
A government which will not be restrained by the Rule of Law is a far greater danger than any felon.
The prohibition on voting by felons is set out in Article II Section 1 of the Virginia Constitution.
…No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority…
The Governor’s authority to grant clemency, including the restoration of Civil Rights is set out in Article V Section 12.
The Governor shall have power to remit fines and penalties under such rules and regulations as may be prescribed by law; to grant reprieves and pardons after conviction except when the prosecution has been carried on by the House of Delegates; to remove political disabilities consequent upon conviction for offenses committed prior or subsequent to the adoption of this Constitution; and to commute capital punishment.
He shall communicate to the General Assembly, at each regular session, particulars of every case of fine or penalty remitted, of reprieve or pardon granted, and of punishment commuted, with his reasons for remitting, granting, or commuting the same.
The requirement that the governor notify the General Assembly of each grant individually with explanation of the particulars of the case clearly establishes the power of clemency to be on a case-by-case basis, and indeed, all previous commissions and Attorneys General which have rendered an opinion on the matter have affirmed that the Governor’s power of clemency does not include blanket restoration of civil rights to classes of individuals rather than individuals.
Previous Governors of both major parties have abided by that restriction, most recently when Governor Bob McDonnell greatly simplified the process and contacted eligible individuals by mail providing them with forms to submit, but still issuing individual grants of clemency.
Governor McAuliffe’s recent blanket restoration of voting rights to over two hundred six thousand felons by executive order clearly exceeds the authority granted to the Governor by the Virginia Constitution. While the ends maybe desirable, the means are unlawful.
If it is desirable to automatically restore Civil Rights upon completion of sentence and probation that can be accomplished by amending Article II Section 1. If we wish to expand the Governor’s powers of clemency to include classes of individuals meeting certain requirements, then Article V Section 12 must be amended, but the Virginia Constitution cannot be amended or circumvented by an Executive Order by the Governor.
The Tidewater Libertarian Party supports Amending Article II Section 1 to allow for automatic restoration of Civil Rights, clearly defining those felonies for which rights can be restored and what conditions, such as restitution to victims, might be required. We oppose expansion of the Governor’s discretion as selective application of law is prone to political abuse.
The Tidewater Libertarian Party condemns this abuse of the Governor’s office and supports legal action to compel the Governor to act within the law.
Further, in issuing his order, the Governor attributed Virginia’s prohibition on voting by felons to post Civil War suppression of black voters. That is a false statement.
The prohibition of voting by felons has been in the Virginia Constitution since 1830, a time when only white males were affected, and that codification itself was preceded by the common law concept of “civil death” extending back prior to the settlement of Virginia.
Falsely attributing the prohibition to Jim Crow era racism needlessly encourages continued racial animus on an issue where race should be irrelevant.
The Tidewater Libertarian Party condemns the attribution of racism to existing law or to the necessary legal challenges to the Governor’s abuse of his office.